As this site focuses mostly on Mental Illness and positive mental health practices, I’ve always felt responsible enough to signpost visitors to professional help if they feel they’d benefit from it. Most of that help comes from charities, specialists in specific causes of stress, as well as the NHS and sometimes information bases where you can learn more about a specific subject.
I rarely talk about the support that’s available locally, for obvious reasons. I don’t know you and I don’t know where you live, right? But recently, as a result of my problematic health, I’ve had to engage with people over the phone, people that are geographically close, people who have the ability to make my day infinitely better or horrifically worse.
In some cases, I don’t think they realise how much of an impression their interaction with me has on my mental health. Let me tell you – it’s HUGE.
Most of my support suggestions on this site have centered around the help available nationally or virtually. Whether it’s a helpline or website, they are all looking after the whole of the country. That’s whole lotta peeps!
But looking closer to home we can still find positive help and support, sometimes in the strangest places. Small gestures, offers of assistance and even exchanged smiles are happening every day in the community and liftng spirits as they go.
Can your local community help as much as a huge organisation such as the NHS, mental health charities and online information services?
Yes, it really can. And I have some lovely examples.
Wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) people
I take a lot of medication. Three different pain meds of 3 and 4 different mental health meds (and no, I don’t think I should be ashamed of this). It’s a confusing mix taken throughout the day that, thankfully, my partner manages for me.
Obviously, having a regular prescription of this size means I make contact with my GP to order it on a regular basis. Monthly for me. That means we have to collect the prescriptions once a month too. Again, this is obviously something my partner does for me.
So between us, at a minimum, we are speaking to or visiting both the pharmacy and our GP surgery at least once a month. Over 7 years that amount of contact means I know the people on the end of the phone pretty well, maybe even at a friendly level, surely?
Yes and no.
I’ve been accused of being too negative, so, with those comments in mind I’ll start this example with the POSITIVE encounters I’ve had.
Surprisingly, this comes from the business end – our local pharmacy.
Once a month, regular as clockwork, I call to check they’ve received my prescription instructions, containing a some medication that I’m likely to need at some degree of urgency. My medication can’t be ordered early so I can’t have back-ups in stock. I’m forced to order prescriptions when I’ve nearly run out. By the time the pharmacist is involved I may only have a day or two left.
But they never add to the stress and they never seem tired of my calls. In fact, they seem PLEASED to hear from me.
The pharmacist on site has been taking my calls for years. I know her by her first name and she remembers me too. We start the call by having a short chat, always asking how we are each doing and she always asks how I’m feeling. Then, before I’ve had a chance to ask, she’ll tell me if they have the script and if it’s ready. When it’s there, that’s the end of the conversation. I’ll thank her profusely for her time and wish her a great weekend. She offers me the same. I genuinely think she means it!
When it’s not there she helps me locate it OR she helps me get a replacement. She realises how much trouble I’d be in without my medication and tells me where I can go to get help if she can’t work it out.
In any case the call ends and I feel uplifted. This may be the only conversation I have all week that doesn’t include my partner or our daughter. My social anxiety limits my interactions with other people to an unusually high degree and I accept that this makes my example a little unusual. But even though the pharmacist knows the medication I take, she has no idea what for. She doesn’t know I never leave the house nor that I have severe social anxiety. So her conversations with me, the pleasantries we exchange and the odd laughs we share, are all real.
She’s one of lifes nice people.
That’s great service, isn’t it? She has the most positive impact on my day. There are 2 other people I know of that work at the pharmacy and it doesn’t matter who I speak to, the way I’m managed is always the same. It’s a positive experience and they’ll never even know how happy I am to call them. It’s one of the few phone calls that doesn’t worry me further.
Contacting my GP on the other hand – a service run and managed by the NHS – is often a very negative experience that’s even been known to reduce me to tears. As a result I avoid calling them, either getting my partner to make contact instead or requesting a specific member of staff via their website (if I have no other choice). Why? Why am I being so bloody melodramatic? I can hear you thinking it! I’ll let you form your own opinion and decide how you’d manage it…
I’ll also mention that my contact with them isn’t always negative, but knowing that it CAN be means I feel safer giving them a wide berth.
On a few occasions in 2022 I’ve had problems with my prescriptions. Mistakes, missing items and last month the whole thing went missing, and they swore it hadn’t. The resulting investigation and hunting was left to me and took days of phone calls between various parties. I ended up getting a new prescription on the day I’d run out of most things. It can be dangerous to miss mental health medication doses, but on this occasion the staff member at the surgery didn’t care when I explained this. In fact, she got so frustrated because I was pausing and stuttering (something that gets much worse when I’m worried or stressed – an obvious reaction to the possibility of having to miss medication) that she hung up on me.
No, I hadn’t been angry, agressive or abusive. I hadn’t sworn, shouted or said words of frustration. In fact, at one point I’d been crying.
Further back I had an interaction with a staff member who was disgruntled by me being agoraphobic and asked me 3 times when I last had my hair cut. I’ve been asked when I last visited a supermarket or, slightly different angle, how I get my groceries? If you need to know the answers I cut my own hair and I haven’t set foot in any shop for nearly 2 years. Before I was fully agoraphobic I was already avoiding places where I felt afraid. Supermarkets was one of them, our local town centre was another. I haven’t been there for over 3 years…maybe 4.
I understand it’s hard to believe that my life is this way. I realise it’s difficult to understand when someone is so afraid they can’t leave home. But the shame I feel about my way of life is really big…it’s difficult to admit that, but it is. I worry about my daughter having to cope with having a weird mum every single day. It’s not an easy way of living, despite what many people think.
But when your own GP, the organisation that prescribes you the strong medication to help you manage that anxiety, actively asks questions designed to increase your shame and humiliation, it’s really damaging. Then they hang up on you when you pause or stutter, then they regularly lose your prescription, literally FORCING you to have to make contact with them. Honestly? It’s no wonder they have a negative impact on my life.
I’m really shocked when I look at the comparison between these two organisations who hold a similar role in my monthly prescription exploits.
When something goes wrong with my prescription I feel terrible and relieved at once. I HAVE to call the surgery and I GET to call the pharmactist. They are two totally different styles of interaction and will almost certainly have two totally different emotional outcomes for me.
Just by being kind and personable, the pharmacy has the power to make my day so much brighter, so I’ll end this example with that positivity.
Another wonderful person
Another example is my virtual physiotherapist. I realise that sounds wanky, but it’s not just my mobility and agoraphobia that made her become a ‘virtual’ interaction. Covid altered the style of the regular contact I have with professionals, with most changing to phone calls and ‘Zoom’, and home visits only completed when absolutely necessary.
That started to change at the end of 2021 and, while some therapists are back to coming to see me here, some gave me the choice. Covid proved that face-to-face consultations and assessments aren’t always necessary. So the physio in question is now usually a virtual interaction for me.
We speak or ‘meet’ once a month, and I’m always happy when I see an appointment with her in the diary. Our sessions are around an hour each and we go through strengthening exercises and therapies to help with my pain and mobility.
So what’s different? Well, she starts her sessions with a conversation. We talk about how things have been since we last spoke, and she wants to know EVERYTHING – the BIG picture. She sees ALL the issues and makes decisions and adjustments based on all my needs. For example, if my mobility has been worse or I’ve struggled to walk, she’ll make sure that ongoing strengthening exercises can be completed while laying or sitting. If my mental health has been on a decline, she’ll only give me a few things to do each day, as I’ll find it hard to remember or complete much more. She even talks to me about the best time of day to do them, based on the time I take my pain medication.
Now, being realistic, doing these things is part of her job, I get that. But she’s so kind and personable and when she calls she seems to remember my story, so I’m not repeating myself whenever we talk (something that happens alot and can be frustrating at best). It’s highly likely she reads her notes before we talk and that’s why she seems to remember so much, but I don’t care how she does it. What matters is how positive her impact is on me whenever we talk. Like the pharmacist, I probably won’t speak to anyone else that week (except my partner and daughter, of course), so for me it’s a really important conversation.
She’s one of lifes really bloody wonderful people.
Experiences of others
Recently these interactions got me thinking about others. People who might be permanently lonely, living alone or struggling with abuse, severe mental health decline or feeling desperate.
I remembered my own grandparents. When my grandfather became a widower many years ago, he’d only speak to me on the phone and interact with retail workers or his dog on a daily basis. The neighbours would pepper in an appearance from time-to-time too.
If he’d had an interaction with his GP surgery that was similar to mine, how awful would he have felt? Having been hung up on and still worried his heart medication was about to run out?
Conversly, how wonderful for him (and what a relief for me) that his pharmacist is so friendly and always helps when there is a problem with a prescription. To feel relieved they bother to know him by name and always greet him with a smile, remembering to ask how he is and wish him a good day.
For someone like my grandfather, those conversations would have been a lifeline, they ARE incredibly important. If I didn’t call him, that might have been his only interaction all day…sometimes for a couple of days.
I don’t want vulnerable, lonely people to be subjected to that kind of carelessness by professionals who really should know better.
Professionals we should all feel able to trust.
But I’m hugely relieved that professionals like my pharmacist and my physio still exist. In a world where most things have moved online, human contact has almost become an art form. It’s a skill many people seem to have forgotten, or maybe they never had it?
In all cases I don’t think they realise how important the job they have is just at a basic level – as a simple human interaction.
I’ve talked about kindness before, but I hadn’t given any specific examples and recently there seem to have been so many.
I hope the interactions you’ve been having lately have been positive ones. But if you’re like me – regularly contacting a specific company or service when you have social anxiety – I’d recommend getting the name and contact details of anyone you come across who lifts your spirits. It’ll reduce the chance of coming across someone difficult in the future and developing a professional relationship with someone you get on with could have such a positive impact. It might even reduce your anxiety over phone calls, meetings and the resulting conversations.
I get how scary it can be when you’re faced with communicating with the unknown. A friendly face (or voice) can really turn that fear on its head.
I’ve used bees again! Don’t ask me why, but bees are becoming an obsession, especially bees in kawaii form OR something dressed up as a bee. Yes, you saw it right. In this case we have a bear.
The people at the end of the phone – they could be bees 🐝. They’re all wearing the same corporate uniform and professional smile, but they have a sting in their tail that you can’t see and after talking to them they’ll leave you with a BAD fuzzy feeling. OR they might be warm, fluffy, friendly teddy bears with a bee costume on. They still look like the bees and act like the bees, but the sting isn’t there and you’re left with a GOOD fuzzy feeling after talking to them.
Bears in Bees clothing?! I think I’ve got that analogy wrong. 🙄
Save the bees!